12 MONTH CAR REVIEWS: 2012 Volkswagen Passat SE TDI - Americanized

April 30, 2012
2012 Volkswagen Passat SE TDI Front Left View 2
View All (13) Photos
The 2012 Volkswagen Passat is more than just another Passat, or even yet another midsize sedan in an already vast pool of similar-sized vehicles in North America. No, the innocuous-looking sedan, which went on sale in 2011, reflects a shift in Volkswagen's North American product planning -- and, for that matter, VW's global ambitions.
2012 Volkswagen Passat SE TDI Front View
Though it may share a name and several powertrain options with the Passat built in sold and Europe, the two are surprisingly different vehicles born from markedly different design programs. While Europe receives a Passat that offers fanciful content like adaptive suspension and power-closing trunk lids, America's Passat -- once referred to as the New Midsize Sedan -- focuses more on delivering space at a relative bargain. Not only is the car four inches longer, but selective cost cutting and domestic production (all North American Passats are built in Chattanooga, Tennessee), allows VW to price base 2012 Passats just under the hallowed $20,000 mark.
That may help VW attract the price-conscious buyer, particularly in difficult economic times, but does the penny pinching and increased stature tuning ruin what we've come to love about the Passat over the last three decades? This, after all, is the nameplate that once endeared itself to buyers by way of its European sophistication. The nameplate that once boasted surprising features like a W-8 engine and an evolution of Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system. The nameplate VW once touted as "a true German touring sedan with all the feeling and quality you want." Has this flair, this excitement, this European personality all been eschewed in the name of North American sales volumes?
We wanted to find out for ourselves. Though we walked away from our initial test drives reasonably impressed, we decided to put a 2012 Passat through its paces for the next 12 months to see if Volkswagen's latest mainstream hope can also satisfy car enthusiasts like ourselves.
2012 Volkswagen Passat SE TDI Front Left Side View
Unlike many other competitors in this market, Volkswagen doesn't sell the 2012 Passat as a hybrid -- those seeking the utmost in fuel economy are instead directed to the tried, tested, and all-too familiar TDI model, which again packs 140-hp, 2.0-liter turbo-diesel I-4 underhood. Seeking a comfortable long-distance cruiser, we elected to go the TDI route, a choice that also impacted some of our subsequent option choices.
While a base 2012 Passat S, fitted with the 2.5-liter I-5, can sticker just below $20,000, the TDI is only available on the higher-grade SE and SEL Premium trim packages, which start at $27,895 and $32,195 respectively. Though we frequently load our test cars to the hilt, we actually shied away from the full-tilt SEL, opting instead for the so-called "Passat SE with sunroof and navigation," which stickers for $30,265, including $770 in destination fees. In addition to the aforementioned features, this package also lumps in 18-inch "Bristol" aluminum wheels. VW offers a six-speed manual on lower-trim Passat TDI SE models, but higher-grade variants -- each involving the addition of a sunroof -- eschew the manual in favor of a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Perhaps it's just as well, considering we found a conventional manual transmission mated to the same engine in our Four Seasons 2009 Jetta TDI, a little quirky to launch. The only extra-cost item we added to VW's pre-existing package were wheel locks, which added another $110 to our bottom line.
Our 2012 Passat TDI has only been in our garage for a few weeks yet, but with Michigan weather improving and summer lurking just around the corner, we suspect it will quickly become popular with staffers seeking the perfect road trip car, especially given its estimated highway cruising range of 630 miles. Check in shortly to see just where -- and how far -- we push the 2012 Passat in the months to come.
2012 Volkswagen Passat SE TDI Front Left View
Base price (with dest.)$30,265
Price as tested$30,365
Body Style 4-door sedan
Accommodation 5-passenger
Construction Steel unibody
Engine 16-valve DOHC turbodiesel I-4
Displacement 2.0 liters (120 cu in)
Power 140 hp @ 4000 rpm
Torque 236 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
Transmission 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
Drive Four-wheel
Fuel Economy 30/40/34 (city/hwy/combined)
Steering Electrically assisted
Turns lock-to-lock 3.0
Turning circle 36.4 ft
Suspension, Front Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, Rear Multilink, coil springs
Brakes F/R Vented disc/disc
Wheels 18-inch aluminum alloy
Tires Hankook OptimoH426
Tire Size 235/45HR-18
Headroom F/R 38.3/37.8 in
Legroom F/R 42.4/39.1 in
Shoulder Room F/R 56.9/57.0 in
Wheelbase 110.4 in
Track F/R 62.1/61.0 in
L x W x H 191.6 x 72.2 x 58.5 in
Passenger Capacity 102.0 cu ft
Caro Capacity 15.9 cu ft
Weight 3459 lb
Weight dist. F/R TBD
Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal
Est. Range 630 miles
Fuel Grade Diesel
Standard Equipment Power sunroof Touchscreen navigation iPod cable Fog lights Leatherette seating surfaces Automatic dual-zone climate control SiriusXM satellite radio w/3-month subscription Bluetooth Auxiliary audio jack Tilt-and-telescopic steering column Cruise control Hill start assist Automatic headlights w/coming home function Heated front seats Power driver's seat 60/40-split folding rear seats Front and rear armrests w/storage Intermittent front wipers w/heated washer nozzles Stability and traction control
Wheel locks $100

Long-Term 2012 Volkswagen Passat Reviews to Date:

2012 Volkswagen Passat SE TDI - Americanized
go back to top of article


Photo Gallery

Select a Vehicle

Select a vehicle to research pricing, photos, compare and much more
research now

Research A Vehicle

Select a vehicle to research pricing, see photos, compare similar vehicles and much more.
Research Now

Top Lists

Find Local Car Deals